Sunday, August 30, 2009

and as for the second day

(yes, i'm that mom. i'll share pictures of his second day, too.)

here's luke, eating breakfast before his second day of school.

some things you may be thinking:
  1. shucks, he's cute. (i agree).
  2. is he sitting sideways in his chair? (yes, he is and he does...and there's an explanation with which i won't bore you here.)
  3. he's looking decidedly less surfer-dude-ish than he did on the first day. (finally had the much needed haircut...look! ears!)
  4. ahem...why a picture of breakfast?

wait for it...

it's 7am. (yawn.) do you know where your backpack is?

luke does.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

the third first day of school

today was the third time i've taken luke to his first day of school.

two years ago, it was the blue dolphins class, a three-half-days-per-week class of four year olds at a local church. i cried very much when i dropped luke off; he, on the other hand, had to be reminded to give me a hug goodbye, charging off as he was into the classroom without a second glance.

last year, it was the bears, a four-half-days-plus-lunch-per-week class of five year olds at another local church. i teared up a bit, which i tried to hide behind my sunglasses; luke noticed as he gave me a big hug goodbye and asked me why on earth i was crying and told me i would be fine.

today, it was kindergarten gold. elementary school: the real deal. five-half-days-plus-lunch-per-week in a class of kids who are six-ish going on twenty. he rushed into the room, again without a second glance, right along with some other friends who also left their moms in the dust. the teacher graciously invited us in to say goodbye. i requested a hug and a photograph in front of his cubby; he complied with a smile, and then went straight to his table task. free to go, and i was barely choked up.
except for one thing.

you see, the biggest factor in the getting-to-school hassle around here for the past two years has had nothing to do with school or luke or packing snacks or carpooling or take-home folders or any of the rest of it. getting to school--and especially getting into and out of school--around here has been a long, slow process ever since we started two years ago because of eliza. wake her up (inevitably, the only time she'd sleep was when we had to leave for school), bathe her (no small task, but necessary before we could go anywhere, as her nights were consistently messy), load her up (and her carseat was also no small thing), unload her (into her big ol'stroller/wheelchair that didn't fit in crowded school hallways or into her wrap that required a gymnastic feat to use and broke my back in the process)...just to complete the two-second drop off...and then head back to the car to start all over again. an extra hour's worth of work, all told, just to get luke to school, and a few short hours later, the same drill for pick-up.

will it surprise you to hear, then, that the thing that got me teary-eyed today wasn't that i was without my baby boy--my big school boy who reported later that he didn't miss me for even a quarter of a second because he was so busy--surprised? no, that was right and good and brought me great joy.
but without my baby girl.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

a thousand words

that prison i mentioned? forgot i had a photo of it.
see what i mean?

joy? really.

Monday, August 24, 2009

on the summer-like eve of the start of school

"For summer there, bear in mind, is a loitering gossip, that only begins to talk of leaving when September rises to go."
--george washington cable, the grandissimes

Sunday, August 23, 2009

what's missing

as i looked around church this morning during the communion liturgy, the scene was as i would have expected: some concentrating, with eyes closed or focused squarely on the rector; some following the words of the liturgy in the bulletin; some fishing through diaper bags for containers of goldfish or watching a toddler threatening to wander off; some lost in scripture; some distracted by a fly buzzing around a light, a coffee spill, or a whispered conversation. unsurprising.

until my gaze lit upon one particular friend's face. there is only one word to describe what i saw written there: joy. and i was, in fact, surprised by joy, to borrow from the master lewis.

surprised. by joy.

i went looking through some old pictures for that elusive feeling--joy--tonight.

joy. joy in the baby sister he's waited so long to meet.

joy. joy in the "real" thomas he never imagined he'd meet.

joy. well, goofy...but full of joy, too.

joy. joy in those girls, those beautiful girls.

it's been a while since i've felt it. have i ever felt the joy i saw in my friend's face today? joy in sacrifice, in listening to the words our Savior spoke: My blood...My remembrance of Me. have i ever found joy in those words?

it's like a memory i can't quite access: that thing on the tip of my tongue or in some recess of my mind i can almost reach but not quite. the name i can almost see spelled out but just can't get at; the song i can hear but whose lyrics i can't produce. joy. it's been there, i'm sure of it. i can think of dozens of occasions that certainly were joyful, that i surely described as joyful; hundreds more than i have photos to represent.

when the apostle paul was in prison in philippi--a prison (or one whose likeness) i saw this summer--he wrote what is arguably the most joyful book in the Bible. the words "joy" and "rejoice" ring out paragraph after paragraph. the stone-and-dirt hole in an arid, dusty, unforgiving hillside i saw this summer; the place where paul was chained to a roman guard; the spot in which he heard reports--did he hear the sounds, even?--of his christian brothers being fed to hungry lions or being used as human torches: this prison was surely incompatible with joy. surely. was paul surprised, then, by joy? was he surprised when, having described his chains and the distinct possibility of his death, he wrote, "yes, and i will continue to rejoice"? when he exhorted the church to "rejoice in the Lord always. i will say it again: rejoice!"? in prison? persecuted? perhaps never to be free again? "i rejoice greatly in the Lord." again and again. was he surprised by that joy? have i ever felt that joy?

that is the joy i saw on my friend's face this morning, the joy paul describes as "the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." have i ever felt that joy?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

an honest lie

it's an impossible question.

you'd think, more than eight months later, i'd have figured out the answer. or an answer, at least, any answer, other than the lie i usually tell. i'd ask the same thing, surely have plenty of times, without even thinking. who would think about it, really? it's harmless and logical and so superficial, small talk defined, especially in the crowd in which i run.

how many children do you have?

small talk defined...unless you're not really sure of the answer. in which case, it's impossible.

but you can't hesitate to answer a question like that. "ummmm...well..." it's not something the perfect-stranger-you've-just-met-at-the-playground expects you to have to think about. this is an easy one, lady: count 'em. unless you have one you can't count, exactly...that is, one you don't have exactly.

i've tried honest: "well, actually, just one now; my daughter died in december." good, honest, possibly emotional...and, in my opinion, so not fair to the-friend-of-a-friend-you-just-met-at-a-party. where does the superficial, getting-to-know-you conversation go from there? especially if you're blubbering. nowhere.

a friend of mine who lost a daughter many years ago is a bit more oblique: "i have three living children." i've thought to try this strategy, but i'm not sure where it leaves the conversation; have i invited the person to ask me to explain? (do i want to explain?) have i indicated there's something to share, but i'm not willing to share it? again, so much for superficial: it's up to you, brother-in-law-of-the-neighbor-i-hardly-know, to decide if you feel like you've been invited to do some digging.

so i usually lie, as i did twice tonight: "just luke."

my rationalizing brain says that's not a lie; i do have only one child. i don't have eliza anymore. and anyhow, it's ever so much more comfortable and straightforward for the mommy-at-the-pool-who-i've-only-met-once-before; this is not a difficult question, and this is an easy answer. we can continue on to talk about swimming lessons or kindergarten or whatever, and no one's the wiser. so much easier on everyone.

except luke, who is listening. he doesn't say anything, but i wonder: does he think he has a sister? have i just told him--have i told him again and again-- that he doesn't?

my mommy brain says it's a lie; i have a baby girl. luke is a big brother. i have a heart torn in two pieces, one for luke and one for eliza. luke is not an only child; he is not my only child. have i denied that other piece? in my attempt to protect my own broken heart, my sweet baby boy, and the-guy-that-used-to-be-my-student-and-now-works-in-walmart from an awkward conversation, i have denied what is at my very being: there is a hole in my family shaped like a chubby, curly-haired, blonde baby girl.

my watermelon-knife-friend asked me recently if i feel like i want to be known. to answer the how-many-kids question as i usually do--to lie, or at least to avoid the whole truth--means, i think, that i don't. at least not to everyone. in fact, probably to very few people. it says, "this is mine, this grief and this baby-girl-shaped hole; this is not for you. i don't know you, can't trust you, don't want to burden you, and won't invite you in."

and one side of me says that's not what eliza's life was about. eliza's life was not just for me and my family, as so many people have told us. and i'm grateful, i really am, that she touched so many people. i really am. but my other side wants her for me and always did. just for me. the mother-of-a-cousin-of-luke's-classmate did not know my baby girl and therefore does not get to share my loss. i will not share it. this is mine.

selfish, yes. self-protecting, for sure. kind to strangers, i'm convinced so. exhasting, guilt-inducing, dishonest, cowardly? i think so. i do not pride myself on being a liar. the thing is, i just need another answer.

it's an impossible question.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

a perfect ten

crouching tiger, hidden dragon? kung fu panda?

you've got to admire his form; look at those pointed toes!

(he makes his diver-mama proud.)

in context (and yes, i'm fearing for my face in this one)

Friday, August 14, 2009

seven quick bits...& just one more

(blogging in dark hotel room without photo-editing software while happily-exhausted child slumbers away)

  1. driving to the beach in a rainstorm (by which i mean monsoon) is under-whelming, to say the least
  2. sitting on the beach in the rain is rather cold
  3. seeing millions (exaggeration runs in the family, ask anyone) of itty bitty silvery shiny fish jumping out of the waves right where you're swimming is kind of cool, even in the rain
  4. wondering if something that would like to eat those fish is inspiring them to jump gives you the shivers, especially when it's too cloudy and rainy to see what's underwater at all
  5. getting rusty is more likely than getting tan on a rainy beach
  6. children eat much more and much more happily on a pier overlooking the no-longer rainy beach than anywhere else
  7. children and sand and water go together better than anything i know (except maybe chocolate and peanut butter)

& just one more: grandparents (aka play-slaves) at the beach, in any weather: priceless.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

what i've been up to, in pictures

(those are kelly's feet in the last picture, when we went hiking together and made some doggy friends and not-so-friends, and certainly heard a bear.)

for all of you who predicted a "shack" experience

i did, indeed, find a shack while hiking.

(and that was the extent of my "shack" experience.)

closer to fine

(what i was singing in the shower this morning)

i'm trying to tell you something about my life
maybe give me insight between black and white
and the best thing you've ever done for me
is to help me take my life less seriously
its only life after all

well, darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
and lightness has a call that's hard to hear
i wrap my fear around me like a blanket
i sailed my ship of safety till i sank it
i'm crawling on your shores

i went to see the doctor of philosophy
with a poster of rasputin and a beard down to his knee
he never did marry or see a b-grade movie
he graded my performance, he said he could see through me
i spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
got my paper and i was free

i stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
to seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
and i woke up with a headache like my head against a board
twice as cloudy as i'd been the night before
and i went in seeking clarity

i went to the doctor, i went to the mountains
i looked to the children, i drank from the fountains
we go to the doctor, we go to the mountains
we look to the children, we drink from the fountains
we go to the bible, we go through the workout
we read up on revival and we stand up on the lookout
there's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
the less i seek my source for some definitive
the closer I am to fine

--indigo girls

concerning expectations

as i left home a couple of days ago, to head over the river and through the woods, sam asked me if i was excited. when i expressed my reservations over how to spend the time, he admonished me to just go, not with expectations or plans or pressure to make it good. i'm a do-er, a task-oriented make-it-right-er, a capitalize-on-my-time-and-be-productive-er. er, you know what i mean. so to come out here without expectations was a challenge. i filled my car with projects: scrapbooking supplies and photos of eliza's entire life, several books, netbook, journal, phone numbers of friends with whom i've been wanting to catch up...

i'm down to my last hour here. i have slept (a lot), read (some, but not obsessively as i'm often inclined to do), scrapbooked (a little, though i've hardly made a dent), caught up with one dearest friend (a marathon phone call), hiked (far, but only once), explored a creek (despite my certainty i'd meet a snake), spent some sweet time with my quiet-retreat companion (including watching the hysterical "bad moon rising" episode of "everybody loves raymond" on a portable dvd player; if you're a woman or have ever known a woman with pms, you must watch it), taken some pictures (keep staying tuned: i've got to get home to my photo-editing software before i can post them), listened to a thunderstorm from the screened porch alongside the creek (as amazing as it sounds), eaten lots of ice cream (cookie dough), caught up on some emails (but not many), and enjoyed the quiet (immensely).

have i been productive? have i heard from God? have i had any revelations or insights? have i taken advantage of my escape? have i accomplished anything, practical or spiritual?

speaking for myself, i'd have to say no, not really. but i have been fed, somehow, by taking a break from feeling like i need to do the feeding all the time. and i have realized that it wasn't really ever about what i was going to accomplish out here, but about what He was going to do. has He done it?


i have been given a gift of rest. complete, unbroken rest, for two days now. i have been granted peace and quiet for these forty-eight hours. i have not lost sleep thinking, i have not pretended to be what i'm not, i have not counted bites or arranged playdates, i have not done laundry or cleaned up toys, i have not been ruled by the clock.

and in my lack of productivity, i trust that this sweet gift of rest has been stored up in my soul. have i heard from God? has He done it? i think so.

what i've been reading today

from the brothers karamazov, by fyodor dostoyevsky:

"Listen, mother," said the elder. "Once, long ago, a great saint saw a mother in church, weeping just as you are over her child, her only child, whom the Lord had also called to him. 'Do you not know,' the saint said to her, 'how bold these infants are before the throne of God? No one is bolder in the Kingdom of Heaven: Lord, you granted us life, they say to God, and just as we beheld it, you took it back from us. And they beg and plead so boldly that the Lord immediately puts them in the ranks of the angels. And therefore,' said the saint, 'you, too, woman, rejoice and do not weep. Your infant, too, now abides with the Lord in the host of his angels.' That is what a saint said to a weeping woman in ancient times. He was a great saint and would not have told her a lie. Therefore you, too, mother, know that your infant, too, surely now stands before the throne of the Lord, rejoicing and being glad, and praying to God for you. Weep, then, but also rejoice."
The woman listened to him, resting her cheek in her hand, her eyes cast down. She sighed deeply.
"The same way my Nikitushka was comforting me, word for word, like you, he'd say: 'Foolish woman,' he'd say, 'why do you cry so? Our little son is surely with the Lord God now, singing with the angels.' He'd say it to me, and he'd be crying himself, I could see, he'd be crying just like me. 'I know, Nikitushka,' I'd say, 'where else can he be if not with the Lord God, only he isn't here with us, Nikitushka, he isn't sitting here with us like before!' If only I could just have one more look at him, if I could see him one more time, I wouldn't even go up to him, I wouldn't speak, I'd hide in a corner, only to see him for one little minute, to hear him the way he used to play in the backyard and come in and shout in his little voice: 'Mama, where are you?' Only to hear how he walks across the room, just once, just one time, pat-pat-pat with his little feet, so quick, so quick, the way I remember he used to run up to me, shouting and laughing, if only I could hear his little feet pattering and know it was him! But he's gone, dear father, he's gone and I'll never hear him again! His little belt is here, but he's gone, and I'll never see him, I'll never hear him again...!"
She took her little boy's gold-braided belt from her bosom and, at the sight of it, began shaking with sobs, covering her eyes with her hands, through which streamed the tears that suddenly gushed from her eyes.
"This," said the elder, " is Rachel of old 'weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are not.' This is the lot that befalls you, mothers, on earth. And do not be comforted, but weep. Only each time you weep, do not fail to remember that your little son is one of God's angels, that he looks down at you from there and sees you, and rejoices in your tears and points them out to the Lord God. And you will be filled with this great mother's weeping for a long time, but in the end it will turn into quiet joy for you, and your bitter tears will become tears of quiet tenderness and the heart's purification, which saves from sin."

and from come away my beloved, by frances j. roberts:

O My child, I am coming to you walking on the waters of the sorrows of your life; yes, above the sounds of the storm you shall hear My voice call your name.
You are never alone, for I am at your right hand. Never despair, for I am watching over and caring for you. Be not anxious. What seems to you to be at present a difficult situation is all part of My planning, and I am working out the details of circumstances so that I may bless you and reveal Myself to you in a new way.
As I have opened your eyes to see, so shall I open your ears to hear, and you shall come to know Me even as Moses did, yes, in a face-to-face relationship. For I will remove he veil that separates Me from you, and you will know Me as your dearest Friend and as your truest Comforter. No darkness will hide the shining of My face, for I shall be to you as a bright star in the night sky. Never let your faith waver. Reach out your hand, and you shall touch the hem of My garment.

(coming soon: pictures of what i've been up to. stay tuned.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

over the river and through the woods

i'm packing for my escape. through the sweet generosity of some dear friends, a husband just barely hanging onto the last bit of summer vacation, and a brother-in-law in town at just the right moment to play with luke when sam is working, i'll spend the next two and a half days away...away in the woods in a quiet mountain cabin, away from responsibilities and expectations, away from schedules and to-do lists...with wireless internet. perfect! what am i packing? books (the brothers karamazov and a grief observed so far), sneakers, scrapbooking supplies, hundreds of pictures of eliza, my journal, my bible, and my netbook (you can bet i'll be blogging). what am i not packing? cell phone (okay, i'll bring it...but i'm turning it off), calendar, makeup, earrings, recipes, grocery lists, children's ministry schedules, laundry detergent, editing expectations, no work, no pretense.

as i was just packing up my shampoo and conditioner--even in the woods, pretense-free, i've got to have clean hair, after all--i found a scrap of paper in my travel case. it's a photocopy of a page from a daily devotional--i don't even know which one--that a friend gave me months ago, and i have no idea how it ended up folded up next to my travel-sized toothpaste. but this will be my prayer for my days away:
O eternal God, though Thou art not such as I can see with my eyes or touch with my hands, yet grant me this day a clear conviction of Thy reality and power. Let me not go forth to my work believing only in the world of sense and time, but give me grace to understand that the world I cannot see or touch is the most real world of all. My life to-day will be lived in time, but eternal issues will be concerned in it. The needs of my body will be clamant, but it is for the needs of my soul that I must care most. My business will be with things material, but behind them let me be aware of things spiritual. Let me keep steadily in mind that the things that matter are not money or possessions, not houses or lands, not bodily comfort or bodily pleasure; but truth and honour and meekness and helpfulness and a pure love of Thyself.

For the power Thou hast given me to lay hold of things unseen:
For the strong sense I have that this is not my home:
For my restless heart which nothing finite can satisfy:
I give Thee thanks, O God.
For the invasion of my soul by Thy Holy Spirit:
For all human love and goodness that speak to me of Thee:
For the fullness of Thy glory outpoured in Jesus Christ:
I give Thee thanks, O God.

I, a pilgrim of eternity, stand before Thee, O eternal One. Let me not seek to deaden or destroy the desire for Thee that disturbs my heart. Let me rather yield myself to its constraint and go where it leads me. Make me wise to see all things to-day under the form of eternity, and make me brave to face all the changes in my life which
such a vision may entail: through the grace of Christ my Savior. Amen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

left behind

it is the nail file on the windowsill near my seat at the kitchen table that gets me thinking about it. this is the only evidence that remains of my once-upon-a-time-successful attempt to stop biting my nails. but it's proof, solid and real, of something that once was, and not too long ago, too. one look at my hands tells the rest of the story, of the eventual demise of this attempt. but the evidence remains: i once needed to file my nails.

sunscreen-greasy fingerprints on the glass door. a leaky water bottle on the couch. a wet bathing suit on the carpet. several books, overturned on open pages to mark his spot, strewn on the floor, the couch, the coffee table. yellow crocs by the front door. a wet bathtub motor boat. this is the evidence of a summer day in his world. were he not here now to tell the story of his day, one could gather the evidence: the pool, the library, a bath. evidence of a summer day.

but the evidence that she was here grows thinner with passing time. her photos still grace the walls, yes, and the bookcases and shelves, too. but the little-girl-sized hair tie i toss when i clean the bathroom, the stray sock i stash away when i clean under the bed, the lip balm--her scent, cherry mingled with menthol--i sniff and then ferret away in a trunk full of memories: these things, the evidence she left behind, dwindle and diminish daily. i no longer find white-blonde hairs tangled with my black ones in the comb i once shared with her. long-gone is the dish drainer that once held measuring devices and formula containers and syringes. the smells that were hers--that cherry-menthol lip balm, her aveeno baby soap, that indescribable scent that was her cheek; even the unpleasant smells of spit-up and stale formula and diapers and white vinegar for cleaning--are all evidence that she was here, evidence that has been slipping away.

when i put away that nail file, it doesn’t erase the fact that one day not too long ago i managed to stop biting my nails. nor does the nail file’s presence there do anything in the way of bringing those nails back, except to me, perhaps. i don’t like filing my nails, really, which is how one snag leads to one nibble which, inevitably, leads to the end of the whole experiment. nor did i like cleaning up her spit-up, changing her diapers, or tending to her mercilessly chapped lips. were those chores, those smells still here, it would not bring her back. were those hair ties no longer useless, those mate-less socks once again a reminder of laundry to be done and done and done, those syringes and vinegar waiting for one more round of sanitizing, it would not bring her any closer.

except to me, perhaps, a little bit.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

between a rock and a hard place

as i see it, the two mutually exclusive options when it comes to matters of belief are certainty and doubt. these days, i'm choosing to cling to doubt.

the former assumes an absence of questions. according to the merriam webster online dictionary (oh, for the days when people turned the pages of an actual dictionary!), certainty is "a state of being free from doubt," and certitude tops a list of synonyms (more on that later). doubt, on the other hand, leaves open possibility. in a state of doubt, there are options: this or that may be. among other things, m.w. defines doubt as "a deliberate suspension of judgment." and a suspension of judgment further implies the possibility of un-suspension; that is, it is a temporary state. judgment is possible but is being withheld for the time being.

of course, in most any circumstances, certainty is preferable. i'd certainly rather be certain about my plans for next week or about what i'm making for dinner or about what time my upcoming meeting will end. unless, of course, those things about which i'm certain are not the certainties i'd prefer. if my plans for next week certainly include spending several days sick in bed, i'd prefer to live with some doubt in the interim. if the dinner i'm making will certainly turn out badly, i'd rather not know for sure before i start cooking. and if my meeting will certainly last several hours, well, i'll choose to remain in the dark until then.

but to go to said meeting, to perpetuate the example for a moment, uncertain of the length (as i might say to sam: "i doubt it will last too long") leaves room for possibilities: it is possible that this meeting will last several hours, but it is also possible that it will move quickly and efficiently. though i might have little hope of the latter and even perhaps expect the former, i can retain some hope for a brief meeting as long as i'm not certain of the outcome. so, although i'd rather not live with doubt, in this case, i'll choose to cling to doubt as a window into possibility.

such is the case with questions of belief, i think. certainty--or perhaps certitude, which, as m.w. suggests, connotes "a faith in something not needing or not capable of proof"--is preferable for sure, as long as the fact of which you are certain is the result you would prefer. to return to my simple example, if i can be certain that my meeting will last only half an hour, then i'll take certainty over doubt for sure. but if, on the other hand, the only certainty i can imagine is that it will last three hours, then i'll choose to retain my doubt--and thus my hope--as to how long it will or will not last. as for more important questions of belief, then, if the only certainty i can imagine at a specific point in time, for whatever reason, is not a pleasant choice or the result that i would prefer, better then to choose doubt and its accompanying hope that the unpleasant certainty i can envision is in fact not the only possibility.

thus i find myself, between the rough, jagged-edged rock of doubt and the hard place of a certainty that is not what i'd choose. i'll cling to that rock and its hopeful possibilities though the hard place may tempt by its deceptively smooth firmness. though i curse the rock, i will suspend judgment as i remind myself of the challenges of the hard place, and, with the psalmist, i will continue to cry out: oh Lord, lead me to the rock that is higher than i.

Monday, August 3, 2009

more backseat tidbits

included in today's trip-to-the-libary commentary:

"mama, if half of seven is three and a half, what's half of seven and a half?"


"mama, if you tried to feed a dead person, would they just spit the food back out or something since their digestive system doesn't work anymore?"


"mama, the man in that car next to us is smoking a cigarette or something! keep the windows rolled up!"


"mama, why is there a security guard at the library? look, he has a gun! what is that for? in case someone tries to steal a book?"

i swear i'm not driving this kid around anymore.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


i have a friend who makes salads from recipes.

most women i know will admit to doing something as they do for no other reason than that it's the way their mothers always did it. for most of us, i think, there is more than one thing like that. and at the risk of sounding old-fashioned (which maybe, just maybe, i am sometimes), there's no better place than the kitchen to learn a woman's because-mom-does-it quirks.

my mom is a fabulous cook. and baker? whew! she can bake. even made my wedding cake (and my sister's, too):

(see it there on our fingers? cheesecake. three layers, decorated with fondant and roses. looked even better than it tasted, i'm told...but i wouldn't know, as this was all we got to eat of it. it was gone too fast.)

so of course, most of what i know about cooking comes from mom. i'm not necessarily talking about traditional family recipes, though we do have plenty of those: krepke and truffles and phyllo chicken and chocolate bags and macaroni salad are some of the favorites around here. but no; i'm talking more about why i store peanut butter and bread in the refrigerator (okay, i'll admit that i quit with the peanut butter when i realized how much easier it was to spread from the pantry). why do i freeze and then boil hot dogs? (unless sam is going to grill them, of course). why do i always tear--and never, never cut--lettuce? (well, because it doesn't turn brown at the edges that way). why do i never bother to sift powdered sugar, even when the recipe says to? use regular spoons instead of measuring spoons? never use anything but hellmann's real mayonnaise? and on and on. most of the reasons i cook what i do the way i do are simple: because that's how mom does it.

and as for my mom, well, she loves a salad. if you ask her which four foods she would choose if she could have nothing else to eat for her whole life (yes, we have had this conversation, and i'd take chocolate, potatoes, milk, and coke, if you must know), she'll answer watermelon (which i remember because it was a surprise to me), two other things i can't remember (but one of which may be chocolate or coffee), and salad (which i remember because it was not surprising at all).

so dinner simply does not happen at my parents' house without a salad. i recall eating dinner there once as an adult--once--when there was no salad. the dinner included several vegetables in addition to the usual main dish and bread or something, and as she prepared the dinner, mom asked, "do you think we need a salad, too?" i assured her that we didn't. so she didn't make one. when dad sat down to dinner, he was shocked. no salad? who has ever heard of a dinner without salad? my taking the blame just barely put off an uprising. (i don't think it has happened again.)

but mom doesn't make salads from recipes, at least none that i can remember. she makes great salads: all sorts of lettuces--even those bitter, spiky ones that i have to pick around--and whatever else she has on hand, plus homemade dressings (from a mix, but still, so much better than bottled). always, always ranch, especially if i'm home. but these are not recipe salads. who knew there were such things as recipe salads?

as i mentioned, my friend does.

any time we get together for dinner, this friend seems to be making a salad from a recipe. and a dressing recipe, too. i'm always in awe of these salads, with their strange ingredients like brown rice or nuts or fruits. sure, mom might chop up an apple or some grapes in a salad when they're in season, but that's not the same as a measured quantity of "tart apples, cut and cubed" or some such detail. my friend and i joke about it because i'm always so amazed that she makes salads from recipes. if i had to guess, i'd think her mom must make salads from recipes. or maybe she learned to cook from someone else...or maybe she got a salad cookbook (do those exist?) as a wedding gift and never looked back...anyhow, it's funny that i have a bookcase full of cookbooks, most well worn and dog-eared, but had never before met anyone who makes salads from recipes. i'll have to ask her where she got hers.

tonight, i made one of her recipe salads. brown rice, toasted pecans, tart apples, red bell pepper, red onion, celery, and chicken, with a dressing of cider vinegar, canola oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. (did i leave something out? i'd have to check the recipe.) our neighbors came over for dinner, neighbors who are dear friends on whom i can experiment with something life-altering and potentially disastrous like a recipe salad. so we had said recipe salad, which was really quite good, just like when my salad-recipe friend made it. and we had bread, which my neighbor brought.

but we also had another salad. a tossed salad, just like mom makes. with ranch dressing and balsamic vinaigrette from a mix. because you can't have dinner without a salad.

[a couple of postscripts: 1) yes, my friend--who is one of the few who make their way here to my blog with some regularity, i think--will be amused to be identified as my "salad-recipe friend", writer friend and walker friend and mom friend and potato-chip-eater friend and school friend and nearly-neighbor friend and all as she actually is, and 2) yes, i do look like i'm twelve years old in my wedding photo, though no, despite being just a baby, i was not quite that young.]

in case you were wondering

it was raining really hard. and he was really thirsty after church. so despite the fact that we were ready to trudge out there in the rain, luke decided we should delay the cemetery visit.

it's not so much a sigh of relief: this means that feeling in my stomach remains until another day.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

back seat chatter

ask any mom: it's always in the car.

today, as we drove home from a birthday party, luke was discussing his snack options for when he got home. since he had, in the last two hours, consumed pizza, chips, candy, popsicles, cake, and ice cream (what a party!), the options were limited: carrot sticks, cereal, sandwich, etc. it was a reasonable enough discussion, and then it was over.

then a moment of silence.

then, "mama, since tomorrow's sunday, can we go to the grave where eliza is buried?"

it's always in the car.

i'm not sure what makes him think of her in the car--is it the empty seat next to him? the fact that he's no longer in charge of reporting vomiting incidents?--but on the rare occasion when eliza comes up, it's almost always in the car. and out of the blue, too.

i can't remember the last time we talked about eliza's grave. the last time luke was there was her birthday in january. honestly, neither sam nor i feel particularly compelled to go very often, either; i think we've each gone once in the months since january, and neither of us returned from the visit feeling much like we'd like to go back. so i have no clue where luke got the idea to go tomorrow, "because it's sunday."

but go we will, tomorrow. with flowers, because luke thought that was a good idea. in fact, he suggested we plant some seeds today so they would sprout in time, and if not by tomorrow, then by monday, he was sure. which would be an okay day for a visit, he thought, since eliza was buried on a monday.

i think we'll go tomorrow.